The USMNT's answer to Alphonso Davies? Tim Weah excelling as a left-back for Lille ahead of PSG showdown

Comments (0)
Tim Weah
The 22-year-old is flourishing in a new defensive role at club level but does his long-term future really lie at left-back?

In the run-up to the World Cup, there was plenty of debate about Timothy Weah's best position.

Ultimately, though, instead of filling a need as a No.9 , he was used as the U.S. men's national team's go-to right winger in Qatar, where he scored a dream goal in the opener against Wales.

Since returning to Lille, though, Weah's positioning has become a topic of conversation once again. And this time around, he isn't being moved around the forward line.

Article continues below

No, these days Weah is emerging as Lille's first-choice left-back. And, as the club prepares to face Weah's former club, Paris Saint-Germain, on Sunday, it's beginning to look like a situation that was once a response to a club emergency may just be something a bit more long-term.

Weah has been deployed in defense for the past several weeks and, each and every week, he seems to become a bit more comfortable. It's a massive change, going from right-wing to left-back, but Weah has made the transition with little apparent effort, saving his club in a big way from a potential crisis.

The move was prompted by an injury to defensive mainstay Ismaily, leaving Lille without a recognized left-back. And, with manager Paulo Fonseca reportedly less-than-thrilled with the club's unwillingness to spend, he was forced to turn to Weah as a makeshift defender.

Doing so was largely out of necessity and, to be honest, desperation. Fonseca had no legitimate option and Weah, by and large, has been on the outside looking in as part of Lille's forward group.

Indeed, due to his own injury issues and the form of those around him, Weah wasn't often cracking the starting XI.

That is, until he joined the defense. In recent weeks, Weah has looked a whole lot like a modern attacking fullback.

In recent years, we've seen plenty of players to make the transition from attack to defense, with Canada and Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies perhaps the best example.

Like Davies, Weah has made an impressively rapid adjustment to his new position, but facing PSG obviously represents his biggest test to date.

"I'm starting to get used to it," Weah said after a recent win over Strasbourg. "I take pleasure in it.

"We never know. Maybe in the future, I will continue in this position. At the Parc [des Princes], I will surely be in this position because Ismaily is injured at the moment."

While strong performances against sides like Strasbourg will be nice, PSG will be a whole new challenge for Weah.

His attacking qualities make him a modern fullback, but there will be nothing modern about how Lille will likely have to defend against PSG.

Against a team featuring Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar, much will be asked of Weah and, with Lille locked into a tight race for European spots, any result earned against PSG would feel like bonus points heading into the final months of the Ligue 1 campaign.

Weah says he's done a lot of studying in recent weeks to get up to speed in his new position. One player he's looked to is, ironically, one of Messi and Neymar's old rivals in La Liga, Marcelo, a player that is seen by many as the ultimate attacking fullback and one of the best defenders of a generation.

"I continue to learn. I do everything I can for the team," he said. "I personally watch left-back videos like Marcelo.
"I'm still in the learning phase defensively... I'm starting to show that I'm capable of playing in this position. I'm happy that the team trusts me and I try to give back to them."

If Weah's strong performances continue, there's a chance that this transition could become something more permanent. For all of his successes, Weah has never quite become a mainstay in Lille's attack.

The winger has just eight goals in 92 games since joining the club and, in a world where fullbacks are now expected to truly impact the attacking phases, there's an argument to be made that Weah is a prime candidate for the switch.

That, ultimately, would probably be less-than-ideal for the USMNT. With Antonee Robinson all but locked into the left-back spot and young stars like John Tolkin and Jonathan Gomez waiting in the wings, left-back isn't as much of a concern as it once was.
Furthermore, the U.S. already have an attack-oriented defender on the right with Sergino Dest, leaving them needing a bit more defensively on the other side for when the AC Milan fullback inevitably bombs forward.

Weah has been, and remains, a key figure in the USMNT attack as his World Cup performances showed how good he can be.

His ability to stretch defenses is vital and will likely remain vital under whoever the next coach is. It was Weah that so often unbalanced defenses in Qatar as he proved a perfect foil for Christian Pulisic on the other side.

Still, it's a little too soon to have real concern, as this left-back experiment could end up just being that: an experiment.

There's a solid chance that Weah goes right back to the forward line when Ismaily returns, returning him to a familiar position.

There's also a somewhat solid chance that Weah's days at Lille are numbered. The American was linked with a move in January as he looked for a more consistent role in the attack.

It never came to fruition, despite reported interest from Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach, but it remains to be seen if this recent run of games in defense is enough to keep Weah committed to Lille, and vice-versa, long-term.

But, if he can continue passing tests, including this weekend in Paris, who knows what will happen? He may never be the USMNT's Alphonso Davies but, Weah is Lille's star left-back, for the time being at least.